5 Essential Points for Coaching Girls Ages 12 and Up
By Julie Hatfield, IYCA Brand Manager
I have spent most of my professional career and coaching career coaching girls. I have coached and taught boys as well, and I am fascinated with the differences. I do not consider myself an expert on this, but I have figured out some things along the way regarding what to do—as well as what NOT to do. Let’s just say they each present their own challenges, but I am going to focus on girls since I have more experience with them.
I have always found that while boys need to “play good to feel good,” girls have to “feel good to play good.” So, when it comes to coaching girls ages 12 and up, my strategy is simple: Make them happy. Here are a couple tips that can help.
Create Confidence through Physical Strength
Building strength, quickness, and endurance in females helps them perform better in their sports. Optimal performance leads to confidence. My number one goal as a coach and trainer is to build confidence in my athletes through strength training and conditioning. Without confidence and proper conditioning, it doesn’t matter how talented you are; at some point, you will hit a wall. When you train properly, not only do you get stronger, but you also become confident in your abilities and skills.
Let Them Talk
Most girls like to talk (big surprise there!). The key when coaching girls ages 12 and up is to let them talk. When girls feel like they are being heard, they seem to perform better. At the high school where I coach, we do our weekly “goals and gripes” session. These sessions are ever-changing for our teams. We are able to let the athletes voice their opinions anonymously (via an index card) but address each as a team. It is a tough thing as a coach because you don’t always have an answer to what’s on the card. But you, too, are allowed to think about it and address it later. Just make sure that you do just that. Not only do these “goals and gripes” sessions bring the team together, but they also teach the athletes how to express things in a positive, less emotional way. It also nips in the bud a lot of “little issues” that could have snowballed into big issues. I sometimes sacrifice a whole practice for these sessions if the athletes want to talk. After all, if ALL the girls on your team feel good, imagine what the outcome can be!
Younger girls may not be ready for this, but they still like to talk! So let them tell you about their day, be approachable, and make time for it. I usually integrate these team talks or individual talks into their drink breaks or at the beginning of our sessions/practices.
Ask for Feedback and Listen
In order to grow as trainers and coaches, we have to know what our clients and kids like and don’t like. Questions like, “How did you like our session today?” “What do you think you need to work on?” or “What would you like to do more of or less of?” are all critical. Be sure to listen. I see coaches ask these questions all the time while continuing to do the same thing over and over again. Ask for feedback and listen. These kids have some good stuff to say!
Get Them Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
It is important that our girls are being challenged. This doesn’t mean that you run them to the point that they can’t physically do any more. Instead, this means you make them do something they are not familiar with and may be uncomfortable with. It could be physical or mental. Ask them why we do a particular skill the way we do it, or ask them to move in a way that they don’t always move for that particular sport. Make them UNCOMFORTABLE. Ingrain the notion that as athletes, we must get “comfortable being uncomfortable.” When you create these scenarios and situations for your athletes, you will find that they focus on their task, they are learning something new, and they are challenged to adapt and change. Every time you work with your athletes, you should challenge them with something new. Be sure they understand why you are asking them to do it, but get them out of their comfort zone!
Make Sure They Are Learning
Most clinics, lessons, and classes I run I conclude the same way: “Give me two or three things that you got out of today’s session.” This phrase has helped me become a much better trainer and coach. It gives me instant feedback and helps me determine if they learned anything in the session. It also lets me know if what I am saying/teaching is aligned with what they are actually learning.
Although this article is about coaching girls ages 12 and up, I ask this question of all of my athletes, ages 5-18. You know you are doing your job well when a five-year-old can tell you two or three things that she learned that day and retain them long enough to recite them. It really is all about teaching and learning, so be sure that they are getting the best out of you, and you are getting the best out of them.
So, when it comes to coaching girls ages 12 and up, it is pretty simple: Keep them happy. They have to feel good to play good. Create confidence, let them talk to you, ask for feedback, challenge them, and make sure they are always learning.